Records Show Archdiocese of Los Angeles Ignored Sex Abuse by Priests for Decades

After three years of legal bickering, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles has finally released some records that reveal, that for decades, church officials did little more than transfer priests accused of sexual molestation between counseling and different locations.

The complaints, though extremely serious were, for the most part, ignored.

The attorneys for the 500 alleged victims had consented to release the information but until last month the defense attorneys for the Archdiocese had prevented them from publishing it. An appellate court finally ordered the release of the documents.

The records show that in the majority of instances, the church provided years of therapy to accused clergy because bishops believed the offenders could be rehabilitated. The sex violators were reassigned to different parishes, where they frequently accrued new complaints for the very same offenses.

The records, however, are still far less extensive and complete than those turned over in connection with litigation against other dioceses such as Boston.

Here, the documents released are only summaries of personnel records rather than the actual personnel files which in the case of the Archdiocese of Boston, for example, contained doctor’s reports, internal church memoranda regarding meetings with parents, and evidence corroborating the charges of insensitivity to the victims.

In the case of the Boston disclosures, the damaging evidence eventually led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, the archbishop of Boston.

The records cover priests who were ordained as far back as the 1920s. Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has led the archdiocese since 1985, had overseen many of those priests.

The Los Angeles archdiocese, which is the nation’s largest, serves some 3.6 million people in 284 parishes. It has posted about 150 pages of summaries on its Web site.

A spokesman for Mahony has insisted the cardinal wanted to reveal the information to promote reconciliation with victims, but was barred by confidentiality laws.

The lead plaintiffs’ attorney in Los Angeles, regards these disclosures as only a first step. He believes the complete personnel files should be made public.
The lead plaintiffs’ attorney stated: “The significance of these files is that they provide a little more information for the public about the church’s knowledge and frankly their participation in the molestation of children, but until the (entire) files are made public, we’re not going to be satisfied.”

Although the documents offer some details in numerous cases, many of the summaries have shied away from using the term molestation. Instead they used euphemisms such as “boundary violations” to describe the highly inappropriate actions of the accused priests.

The attorney for the archdiocese, J. Michael Hennigan, claims that the summaries provided “are accurate descriptions of the content of the files, without disclosing confidential communication.”

Among the victims, however, the conduct of Cardinal Mahony has been harshly criticized. David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests has accused Mahony of “shameless posturing as some sort of reformer,” while he used legal maneuvers to block a full accounting of his role in the crisis.
“Mahony is grasping at straws to convince his flock that he’s not as awful as many of his colleagues. And as he has for years, Mahony is trying anything he can dream up to avoid having to fully reveal how little he did to safeguard innocent kids from abusive clerics.” Los angeles divorce lawyer.

Among the summaries provided is one concerning a priest who served as a teacher and administrator at numerous Southern California schools. He was convicted of molesting two boys and given probation. That conviction was later expunged from his record. A subsequent report in 1994 referred to “boundary violations” in which he allegedly patted the buttocks of a teenager. After entering an alcohol treatment program he was eventually placed on leave.

Another of the summaries involves a priest who had been the subject of repeated complaints with respect to “inappropriate sexual conduct with children” beginning in 1959. The records, however, indicate that no significant action was taken against him until 1994 when he was relieved of his duties.

Although the legal dispute regarding the issue of disclosure may be far from over, one thing is already clear; the Archdiocese of Los Angeles engaged in a pattern of denial, avoidance, and insensitivity when it came to the manner in which it dealt with an undeniable problem of sexual molestation and abuse by many of its priests. In that way, it was no different than other dioceses around the country that also hid this dark secret from the world for decades.

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